If you study the dynamics of Gay Subculture, one could argue that the Bear Community was "Late To The Party" in pop-culture-speak. All through the Free-Love 70's and Go-Go 80's, Queer Culture had already defined the major players of the Gay scene. There were the young, skinny and pretty-boy Twinks - and the aging Sliver-Fox Sugar-Daddies that adored them. There were our raucous, entertaining Drag 'N' Queen Soul-Sisters, and the Fraternal Order of Leathermen were a clearly visible bloc too. Even the Urban Cowboy's got their own gig, at least on weekends after Disco died and kicking up spurred-heels took it's place. And then there was... The Rest Of Us.
Ah, the rest of us... some of whom were Bears but didn't know or have a culturally deigned word for it. We were on the sidelines; furry, geeky wall-flowers indeed, wondering when WE were going to get our acknowledgment and chance in the societal sun: Hoping to maybe hitch-up with a 'Big Fella', get some whisker-rubs, and try to get laid -- something the other popular and known, codified, and iconized Gay factions had already excelled at for years. Truly Out Gay culture was exploding - but the Bearish were just catching rare bits of shrapnel from the distance.
Maybe that was a good thing. AIDS in the 80's had left a wasteland of loss. It didn't even seem to be our 'modern' understanding of HIV then - it was just AIDS - and if ya got it, ya wasted away, died, and were gone: QUICK. In the Gay-stream mainstream, the handsomest, buffest, prettiest, HUNG-est were the first to go it seems: Victims of their own popularity... Perhaps our decade and thensome of UN-fashionability had inadvertently given many of us Bear-folk a delayed survivability edge.
The 'Bear Community' didn't really coalesce until the early 1990's when Bear Clubs finally started getting traction and forming en-masse around the country, then around the globe. It seemed the Bears had no choice but to finally huddle together. Many of us were just survivors left stumbling alone in a trashed-out, Refugee Camp wasteland. Our UN-popularity had perhaps oddly worked to our survival advantage. We banded together in Bear Clubs desperate to rebuild a community out of the ashes -- and on our own terms. We finally got our gig: Better late than never, Bear!
Fast-Forward through that decade and beyond: Bears Are HOT! - Bears Are IN! - Bears Are NOW! ...And suddenly your waist-size, beard or hairy-back was no longer a date-killing, "Eeeew shave that off!" show-stopper. We were having Dances and Circuit Parties, Big-Tummy BBQ's, Camp-Outs and SpeedoBear Pool Parties -- AND WE WERE GETTING LAID! Properly, Thoroughly, Frequently - although a lot more cautiously - at least for some. True Whore Bears at last!
I'd dare say: A '2nd-Wave' of HIV infection came out of the 90's. Some despaired and gave-up even trying to survive the 80's AIDS wreckage and joined the HIV+ ranks passively, intentionally, or accidentally trying to have a sex-life of some sort in the new era: Everyone, Bears included. And even within our own community: Some of the Furriest, Beefiest, Perfect-Beardedest and HUNG-est objects of desire who played the field raw became the next victims of their own Pop-U-Bear-Ity Popularity... And history did another round of Rinse - Lather - Repeat attempt at elimination. Others, (like me) have kept dodging that fukking bullet for over 30-FUKKING-YEARS in some twisted sort of Russian Roulette: Peek down the barrel. Squeeze the trigger. Wait. Go get tested. Gawd, are we tired of that game yet? Could we at least all agree to play with fewer bullets?!?
If you've read this far you're probably wondering: OK, where does does HIV prevention using PrEP aka Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, Truvada Whores, and Gay Bear men who still like to play together fit in to the Big Picture of the Bear community? Many of us just aren't quite sure yet. But we owe it to ourselves and our Community to open up our minds, learn more about daily Truvada PrEP prophylaxis - and commit to doing whatever in the hell we have to do to respect our very lives and continue to protect each other.
But what does that mean? Many Gay guys have NEVER been tested! Many POZ guys don't get on or religiously stick to their Anti-Retroviral medication regimens. Many NEG guys repeatedly throw caution to the wind. Few can elevate condom use into a verbal celebration of "I can't wait to slip on a scum-bag and rubberfukk your dirty whore ass!" kind of excitement. What makes us think flawless PrEP adherence is going to be assured out there in the day-to-day real world?
PrEP is no panacea. It involves a deep examination of the medical, ethical, social, financial and behavioral analysis of your life, your sense of self, and your survival instincts in ways you might not be used to - or even want to RE-visit. The Advocate magazine online is doing an interesting article series: "31 Days Of PrEP" that educates and informs in easily digestible segments that makes it all more palatable.
Try to see a Big Picture: Where HIV can someday be overcome and be relegated to a minor footnote of the past in infectious disease history. For the current decade, maybe imagining some kind of grand conspiracy by Gilead Sciences Corporation to get ALL Gay men 'on the dole' is the best near-term solution that we've got to collectively accept: Atripla for HIV+ Bears, Truvada for HIV- Bears -- All of us. Every day. Every goddamn day until an even BETTER solution comes along, until HIV transmission drops to negligible and is driven into a corner. I personally haven't decided for myself yet. But I'm thinking we need to TRY -- Before we're too old to get it up, before we're too weary and broken to even care anymore.
(Bears Ready To Party - Image Source: Unknown)